Messages from Pastor Raddatz
March 14, 2021 Mount Olive Lutheran Church Houston TX
RETURN FROM FALSE WITNESS, Matthew 26:57–68
(Adapted from Concordia Publishing House resource “Return”)
Dear People of God,
God calls us to return to him because he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in selfless love.
Today we will consider the false witnesses that spoke at the trial of Jesus according to Matthew 26:57-68. We will also reflect on how we can easily fall into being a false witness for Jesus. It was our sins that nailed him to the cross. He forgives all by taking our sin upon himself. He restores us to him.
The GOAL of this message is that we would speak the truth about their sin, rejoice that God forgives our faults and put the best construction on everything.
In 1996, the Summer Olympic Games were well underway in Atlanta. People from all over the world had converged in that city to participate and watch some of the finest athletes in the world competing in twenty-six sports.
Eighteen days into the games, Eric Rudolph detonated pipe bombs at Centennial Olympic Park. The blast killed one person and injured 111 others. It was the first of four bombings committed by Rudolph in 1996 and early 1997. Rudolph eluded capture for years but was finally arrested in North Carolina in 2003. Two years later, he pleaded guilty to all four bombings.
But before anyone knew the name Eric Robert Rudolph, the FBI identified an Atlanta security guard named Richard Jewell as a “person of interest,” largely because he was something of a loner and kind-of, sort-of fit a profile of a “lone bomber.” The media had a field day with it, portraying Jewell as a failed law enforcement officer who may have planted the bomb so he could “find” it and be hailed as a hero. It was all false witness.
Once the dust settled, it was clear that Jewell was, in fact, a hero. He had spotted the suspicious backpack, alerted the appropriate authorities, and helped to clear the area of spectators in the thirteen or so minutes before the bomb exploded. Without a doubt, the number of casualties was reduced because of Jewell’s actions.
Unfortunately, the damage had already been done to Jewell’s reputation. His name had been forever connected to the Centennial Park bombing, and if you asked people two or three years afterward who the bomber was, inevitably they would mention his name, even though he had been exonerated. In 2019, a biographical movie about Richard Jewell, directed by Clint Eastwood, was released. It may help to recover some of Jewell’s reputation. Sadly, Jewell died in 2007, so he will never benefit from it.
This is exactly what we see in today’s sermon reading from Matthew.
It would be too easy for us to look at the false witnesses at the trial of Jesus and point our finger at them saying it was their fault. It was the fault of the false witnesses who told lies about Jesus that Jesus was condemned to the cross.
Our Gospel takes us to a dark place. Jesus has been betrayed by Judas Iscariot. The temple guards have seized Him and hauled Him to Caiaphas the high priest, and all of the scribes and elders had gathered. They have decided that they are going to put Jesus to death, presumably in order to protect their own power and position. And they are determined to complete this task by any means necessary. “Now the chief priests and the whole council were seeking false testimony against Jesus that they might put Him to death” (Matthew 26:59).
It is worth stopping right there to simply ponder that sentence for a minute. They were actively looking for someone to offer lies under oath with the intention of putting Jesus to death.
How evil do you have to be that you are willing to seek false testimony in order to kill someone?
But it gets worse. Matthew says, “They found none, though many false witnesses came forward” (Matthew 26:60).
Have you heard the phrase: “Anytime you point a finger at someone, remember there are three other fingers pointing back at you.”
When you make a mea culpa, you're admitting "I did it. I'm guilty!" It's a way of saying you were wrong. Mea culpa is from the Latin, meaning “through my fault”.
So when you make a “mea culpa”, you're acknowledging that you did something wrong and apologizing for it. This term sounds fancy and official, but it's also a bit of an old-fashioned concept. In a world where people tend to avoid responsibility for their mistakes, it's refreshing to hear someone offer a mea culpa.
Christ went to the cross to make satisfaction for our sins. Christ "took our sins out of the way" of the father. Colossians 2:14 reads, “And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us.”
What was this "handwriting of requirements"? These words are translated from the Greek phrase means anything written by hand, but can more specifically apply to a legal document, bond or note of debt. (Matthew 27:46), Our sins were nailed to the cross in His body. It was my sin, through the “fault of my own” sins that Christ was crucified. Through his sacrifice the perfection of Jesus is imputed to me. Christ perfection is credited and attributed to me through faith.
GOD FORGIVES OUR FAULTS AND RESTORES US
The only way to restoration and forgiveness is through the cross of Christ.
Richard Dunigan illustrates this point, “At their school carnival, our kids won four free goldfish (lucky us!), so out I went Saturday morning to find an aquarium. The first few I priced ranged from $40 to $70. Then I spotted it--right in the aisle: a discarded 10-gallon display tank, complete with gravel and filter--for a mere five bucks. Sold! Of course, it was nasty dirty, but the savings made the two hours of clean-up a breeze.
Those four new fish looked great in their new home, at least for the first day. But by Sunday one had died. Too bad, but three remained. Monday morning revealed a second casualty, and by Monday night a third goldfish had gone belly up. We called in an expert, a member of our church who has a 30-gallon tank. It didn't take him long to discover the problem: I had washed the tank with soap, an absolute no-no. My uninformed efforts had destroyed the very lives I was trying to protect.
In much the same way any personal attempts to restore ourselves before God are futile. Thanks and praise to God who loved us first and therefore we can love him and love one another.
Martin Luther once said, "God can ride a lame horse or shoot straight with a crooked bow." His desire is to use you as an authentic witness. In other words God wants to use our lameness and our brokenness to display his power.
Thanks be to God,
John Raddatz, Pastor
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